Islamic Studies

Between Cisco and Sujud: Earning Your Livelihood, Taking Benefit from the Corporate Lifestyle

A Lecture by Suhaib Webb | Transcribed by Fuseina Mohamad

2378449312_b0e17e4d73_b Part I | Part II | Q&A

Allah mentions the ruling on seeking a livelihood at the end of Surah Al Jumu`ah, “And when the prayer has been concluded, disperse within the land and seek from the bounty of Allah, and remember Allah often that you may succeed.” (Qur’an, 62:10) After you have finished the prayer, go search out the fadl (blessings) of Allah. Here this means work, as in a livelihood. The ulema (scholars) said that seeking a livelihood could have the following rulings:

  1. Waajib (obligatory) for somebody who  has to, fulfill the basic needs of life
  2. Recommended for someone who is not sure about his livelihood: does he have enough to make ends meet? It may be that seeking another job is recommended.
  3. Makrooh (discouraged); if the person doubts that what he or she is doing is halal (permissible) or haraam (forbidden)
  4. Haram (forbidden); if somebody seeks a livelihood from the forbidden things which Allah and His Messenger salla Allahu `alayhi wa sallam (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) prohibited or it is earned in a way that harms others.

But the general ruling on seeking a livelihood is ibaha (permissibility) or waajib. For someone who has to seek a livelihood to fulfill the basic needs of life, this is an obligation on the person.

The Proof for this is the statement of Allah,

“And it is He who created every thing upon the earth for you.”

Umar (radi Allahu `anhu – may Allah be pleased with him) one day came into the masjid of the Prophet (s) and found two young people, young men. They were sitting in the masjid of the Prophet (s). He asked them, “What do you do?”

They said, “We are from those people who worship Allah.”

Umar (r) said to them, “No, where do you work?”

They said to him, “We don’t work. We’re just righteous people who just make dhikr (remembrance) of Allah. We’re alhamdullilah (all praise is due to Allah) those people whom Allah chose to be close to Him.”

Then Umar said to them, “Wait one minute.” If Umar says to you “wait one minute” that means duck and cover. He came back with a stick and he began to hit them and he said, “Go work somewhere. Go find a job.”

So sometimes we find in our Islamic discourse, especially after the age of the righteous generations, when there was a mixture of foreign philosophies with some Islamic theology, that there is the understanding that being a successful person or being someone who works hard to be successful is something that we should be ashamed of. It is not something that we should be proud of – something that we recognize as a blessing from Allah. But Allah says rizq (provisions) al fadl (blessings). In Surah Al Jumu`ah He calls provisions fadl min Allah: “Seek from the blessings of Allah” (62:10), meaning wealth and provisions are from His blessings.

The Prophet (s) said in a sound hadith to Hakeem ibn Hizaam ibn Khuwaylid, “Hakeem, the upper hand is better than the lower hand.” We look at the Companions of the Prophet (s). What made them unique people is that they were successful. Many of them were successful in this life and successful with Allah. So, for example, if you take the ten who were promised paradise by the Prophet (s) and implant them in today’s society they would be on Forbes’ list of the 50 richest people. They were successful people, and because they were successful people they were able to help the Prophet (s) more than anyone else.

The best example is Abu Bakr (r) because his property and his money gave him transcendence, so he was able to free the slaves, he was able to give charity, and he was able to donate to the battles of the Prophet (s). In fact, the day after he became khalifa (caliph), Umar (r) saw him walking to work.

Umar said, “O Abu Bakr, where are you going?”

He said, “I have to work.”

Umar said, “You are the khalifa of the Muslims. How are you going to work? You’re going to be busy.”

Abu Bakr said, “I have to have a livelihood.” And this is how the salary of the khalifa was initiated because Abu Bakr still wanted to work.

Abdul Rahman ibn Awf (s), one of the ten promised paradise by the Prophet (s), when he migrated to Medina, as related by Imam Al Bukhari in his collection, came and gave salaams to the Prophet (s) after he arrived in Medina. The Prophet (s) said to him, “Where are you going?”

Abdul Rahman (r) said, “I’m going to the markets.” Why? To get busy, to develop some type of sustainable income for himself. The Prophet (s) did not rebuke him. The Prophet (s) did not refute or rebuke him for going to the markets because he knew that Abdul Rahman ibn Awf wanted to get married to an Ansari woman and needed to settle his affairs so we gather from this that that working and making an income is permissible.

Even those people who made hijrah (migrated) to Medina, we see in the Quran and also in the hadith of the Prophet (s) that there was some effort to help of them financially with their hijrah when they arrived in Medina, such that the Ansari who was helping Abdul Rahman ibn Awf said to him, “I will give you one of my houses.” They didn’t go without any type of economic promise or hope of economic benefits, although they struggled.

One of the reasons that we look at the companions of the Prophet (s), is because they represent the balanced model that we need today. There is the story of the Imam who played soccer and was fired from his position of Imam. So he asked his community why. They said because holy men cannot play soccer.

What kind of understanding do these people have about Islam? Subhan’Allah (glory be to Allah), it’s a very strange understanding of Islam. So his job is to eat biryani and mansaf, and die before he’s thirty-six because he doesn’t exercise? Then we say rahimahu Allah, kana rajulan salihan wa lakinahu kana yakul biryani kathira (may Allah have mercy on him, he was a good man). When he dies we say, “Oh he was a pious man but he ate a lot, masha’Allah.

Maybe we think that the Prophet (s) encouraged poverty when he said “Allahuma ahyini miskeenan, O Allah resurrect me poor.” This du`a’ (supplication) is sometimes used by people to say that the Prophet (s) discouraged people from seeking a livelihood. But as the  Sh. Tahar Rayan taught us, what the Prophet (s) means here is “Resurrect me muftaqiran ilayk (reliant on You).” Resurrect me so that when I am resurrected the only reliance I have is on You. We have the term miskeen which is literally somebody who does not have any property and so on and so forth. But also we have the term miskeen for the one who relies on Allah, trusts in Allah alone, and this is the one the Prophet (s) meant.

What other proofs for this to do we have? The statement of the Prophet (s) when he said the best property is the property of the righteous person. And we have his companion Abu Talha Zaid ibn Sahal when he gave his garden for the sake of Allah. Allah said you will not attain bir (righteousness) until you give from what you love (3:92). Abu Talha said, “I love this garden,” so he gave it fi sabil Allah (for the sake of Allah).

Anas ibn Malik, the narrator of this hadith in al-Muwatta, says this was from the most beloved of Abu Talha’s property. So Imam al Baji al Maaliki, the great scholar, in al Muntaqa he says that it is acceptable for someone to love his property, though there are conditions for that love.  He described one of the greatest companions of the Prophet (s) Abu Talha saying that the most beloved thing to him from his property was the garden, and this wasn’t to debase himself but this was to state the reality of that person.

Aisha bint Abu Bakr (radi Allahu `anha – may Allah be pleased with her) used to love to wear under her jilbab a red saffron colored dress. She used to like this color because it was a beautiful color. Sometimes we think that the companions of the Prophet were walking around in rags because they wanted to. No, the poverty of the Prophet (s) and the poverty of his companions was due to circumstance, not choice.

Imam Abdul Rahman ibn Al Jawzi al Hanbali had a very strong, very sharp tongue. He said, “Those extreme people if they knew that the Prophet loved to wear the Yemeni dress (which is a very comfortable type of dress) and he loved nice perfume and he loved sweetmeat, if they knew this they would apostate and leave Islam.” He said because they made Islam so difficult they would not be able to fathom how the Prophet lived his life very simply.

As ibn Qayim mentions in Zad al Ma’ad—a four volume masterpiece about the Prophet—he said the Prophet (s) was very simple. Whatever somebody gave him, he would wear it as long as it was not something forbidden by Allah.

497897531_4344a163b8_bAmong the great students of the companions of the Prophet (s) some of them were poor because of circumstance and some of them were rich. A good example is the grandfather and the father of Imam Maalik. They were people who had good wealth. Imam Maalik used to wear the clothes of a king when he related hadith. He would send his servants to the people and they would ask them, “Do you want to learn hadith or Islamic law?” They would say to him or her, “We want to learn Islamic law.” Then Imam Maalik would come out immediately. But if they said, “We want to learn from the hadith of the Prophet,” Imam Maalik would go make ghusl, put on ‘ud (incense), put on the best clothes he had, then come and teach hadith.

People actually used to chastise him. Some ascetic people wrote him letters and they said to him, “Why are you dressed like that? Why do you look nice? You should be more pious, you should be like this…”

And his response is interesting. He said, “What you are doing is khayr (good) and what I am doing is khayr (good). Khalas (finished), leave me alone.”

Many of us know Imam Abu Hanifa as a teacher and a faqih (expert in Islamic jurisprudence) who used to relate hadith on behalf of the Prophet. But if you wanted to buy silk in the city of Abu Hanifa the best place to buy silk was his shop that he ran with his brother. So even though he was an Imam he still had his business; he still made money to be sufficient.

Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal once was asked, “If somebody has a hundred thousand dinar can he be from the people of zuhud, can he be a pious person?”

Imam Ahmed, who was the strictest of the four as far as being a person of zuhud (asceticism), said yes as long as the person doesn’t put love for that money in his heart. And this is a strict person.

Imam Ahmed also noted that the qualties of a mufit are five; one of them is that he should earn enough to keep himself self sufficient.

al-Shaf’i used to say, “If I’m busy with the basal (onions), I cannot think about the masail (issues at hand).”

Imam Abu Hamad al Ghazaali, who died 505 after hijri, many times people see him as the archetype of the ascetic personality. But once he lamented, “Ya salaam! (O peace!) There are some people, they made everything haraam and everything difficult on the people until the only thing that you can find halal to eat, if you follow the opinion of these people, is the grass on the ground.” And then he chastised them. He said, “What is wrong with these people? Why did they make the religion this way?”

So the question is what is zuhud? What does it mean to be a person who is a zaahid? And how can we gain this understanding of az-zaahid? Is it a condition related to the physical or to the internal?

As with most of the scholars, ibn Qayim mentioned, in Madarij al Salikin and others, zuhud doesn’t necessarily have to do with how much you have, but zuhud deals with how you handle what you have. Being in corporate America and working in corporate America has nothing to do with your piety. It has nothing to do with your piety. The Prophet (s) said that taqwa (piety) is here, pointing to his heart.

Some people came to me and they said, “Oh you are much more pious than us.”

I said, “Why?”

“Because you sit in the office all day and you read books, and you don’t go out, and you don’t mix with this and that. Masha’Allah.”

I said, “That’s not piety, man, that’s luck. That’s qadr (Allah’s decree).”

But the scholars used to say something interesting about Umar ibn Abdul Aziz. They said that they respect Umar ibn Abdul Aziz more because he had the propensity to do wrong and he did not do it. He had the chance to do wrong and he did not do it. That’s why Umar ibn Abdul Aziz is respected more than others. Those zuhadaa, those people who used to sit in their offices away from the people, they said, “By Allah we respect Umar more then we respect ourselves.” Why? Because he had temptations in front of him and he controlled himself and left the evil things for the sake of Allah.

Another point is where did the Prophet’s companions settle after the time of Umar (r)? Umar kept them in Medina, but after the time of Umar (r), the majority of the companions of the Prophet went where? To the caves? To the mountains? They went to the major urban centers of the world: Kufa (Iraq), Basra (Iraq), Sham (Syria), Masr (Egypt). They went all over the world to the major cities, except for a few of them, and they engaged the people. That’s how Islam spread. And when they went to those places were Muslims the majority or the minority? Nobody ever thinks about this. Islam was still a minority, but they functioned within the society, brought benefit to the society, and by them, the Companions of the Prophet, Islam spread. By dealing with the people. By engaging the people.

And that’s why when Umar was asked who is the best person: the one who flees from the people or the one who mixes with the people, he said the one who mixes with the people. He said the one who mixes with the people are those Allah has tested.

So my point is, sometimes I notice that people feel an inferiority complex because they are in a professional field. Wallahi (by Allah) you should not feel this way. Your example, all of you, is like those Yemenis who went to Malaysia. How did they spread Islam in Malaysia? It was through business. Through dealing with the people, engaging with the people. We are not going to spread Islam through an Imam who sits in an office. Islam is not going to be presented to the people in America if a reporter comes to one of our religious leaders in the community and interviews him on TV and he says, “Islam means peace. Muslims are good people. We don’t do anything wrong, we’re a constitutional religion,” and so on and so forth, and they have no one to talk to or to see. So, by Allah, to some degree I envy you, because you’re able to interact with the people.

About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship. Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010.


  • Jazak Allah khyran …it is such a beautiful atricle ..
    hope it will be applied in the middle east espcially in Egypt..
    also i would be grateful if you post some creative means or approaches for da’wa
    it will help us alot esp. in our College ….

  • jazak’Allahukhayrn for the transcript…

    I just wondered if anyone knew about the rulings or permissibility of women working..

    Some say that if there is no need to work then they shouldn’t be in the work place at all. That even in some fields like medicine there will always be other women working so the practicing sisters don’t need to do it (I’m referring to living in the west and working).

    Personally I find work a valuable means by which I interact with many non muslims and by showing them I’m a caring, honest health professional it speaks volumes even though I’m wearing hijaab and jilbaab.Since my children came along I have managed to reduce my hours to just two sessions a week alhamdulillah and that way it doesn’t interfere with domestic responisibilites.

    • Asalamu alaykum,

      Scholars noted that if the Prophet (sa) witnessed an action and did not forbade it, nor openly encouraged it, then it is considered permissible.

      Scholars differed concerning a woman working:

      1. Some held that it was permissible in the face of a necessity. This is based on the fact that the daughter of Shu’aib went for water and said, “Our father is an old man.”

      2. Other’s held it to be permissible based on the number of reports that the wives of the Companions worked outside their homes. A common example is the sound narration of Asmah, the daughter of Abu Bakr, when she was carrying water on her head the Prophet did not censure her.

      Both groups of scholars agree on some general conditions:

      1. Her husband/wali’s approval (unless her situation is such that she must work)
      2. The potential income is not haram, or the work place haram
      3. She is not put in a situation where she would compromise her faith or morals
      4. She is not alone with a strange man
      5. It would not harm her family and her responsibilities at home

      Allah knows best

  • This is a great post that should be shared with every Muslim in America. And few scholars take on this topic with such honesty and fidelity to the texts of Islam and the actions of the Companions, something all khateebs should read before they make statements on the membar that cast down peoples work- it is part of our religion to strive to earn a living!

    Jazakum Allah Khair, waiting for part 2

  • Salam aleikum Shaykh Suhaib,

    I read this and it didn’t sit well with me. I think at mainly you were talking to Middle Eastern mentality, the messed up free-loader mentality in poverty stricken Muslim countries, and generally speaking to the masses of Muslims. So I can understand the audience you wrote it for, but I have some concerns and questions:

    Is Zuhd in Corporate America possible? Is it only possible, as the slant of this article states, when you have wealth? What exactly is faqr? I don’t fully understand asceticism but I wonder…did it ever exist in North America? Does it still? Are we better off being rich and thereby trying to improve the image of Islam by pursuing media control? How does that compare to other rich Muslim communities in the ummah, now and in the past?

    Overall, this seems to be sending the message there is nothing wrong with piling up wealth and anyone who would try to escape this, well, they are just plain crazy. This seems really biased, and I recognized too many of the narrations, quotes and references, because I’ve heard them from other American speakers, and that makes me concerned collectively, the shaykhs seem to call to the pursuit of the dunya. From the little I know, extreme poverty is not encouraged, such as begging, but zuhd and poverty is encouraged enough to be sufficient for one’s bodily rights and rights the family has upon oneself, i.e. searching for work and pay day to day, and not exceeding that should on day and it be a cause of trial on Yawmul Qiyamah for it.

    So returning to my main question:
    How can we achieve the reality of zuhd nowadays? Especially considering the make-up of our society and how the economy and employment works…? Labor work comes to mind, yet most Muslims today are educated, professionals…All to often we hear comments about moderation and not going to the extreme, and also of how zuhd is in the heart, one can have it without enduring poverty but I wonder how much pushing this line of thinking is just an excuse poised by shaytan’s whispers?

    P.S. I’m also irked about you encouraging “corporate america” because that is what has resulted in the military-industrial complex that fuels American oppression overseas, the prison-industrial complex which fuels racism, crime and inequities in the system, economic problems, etc. but thats a different discussion for another time.

    • Assalamualaikum bro,

      I’m waiting for the Sheikh’s reply to this but was curious what part “[sent] the message there is nothing wrong with piling up wealth and anyone who would try to escape this, well, they are just plain crazy”?

    • wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

      Dear Dawood:

      I’m saddened to see someone like yourself rushing to such conclusions. I’m not sure how much, and how well, you read the post? It was not written, as you noted above, nor was it given overseas. It was a speech given in the heart of San Jose, Ca.

      I would encourage to read it again, along with part two, and then provide your feedback. I can say without any doubt that you have not understood what was said.


      • Salam Shaykh Webb,

        I know this article is a couple years old, not sure you’ll have time to respond.

        I was wondering this as well, its something that kind of has been in the back of my head, similar to what Dawood said. Which is like, you were making an analogy that working in corporate America/professional fields is a blessing, cuz similarly thats how islam spread back in the days like in Iraq for example…

        But at the same time, what if those companies you are working for and directly/indirectly contributing to mass oppression in Muslim countries? Worldwide riba, etc. Of course Islam is an understanding religion and we can’t be hermits, but same time always wondered about this.

        Back in the days, I’m (assuming) those places the early Companions went, were not trying to destabilize their own home countries…by being cogs in the wheel aren’t we contributing in some way to our own civilizations demise (not that I exactly view it in a ‘the clash of civilizations’ manner.

        Would appreciate some guidance as I feel the inferiority complex which you speak of (if I understood it correctly, feeling alienated from society due to trying to guard oneself from the fitnah)

        Thank you for the wonderful website.

  • Qas: this line really made me question since it is opposite to what I’ve learned: “No, the poverty of the Prophet (s) and the poverty of his companions was due to circumstance, not choice.”

    SDW: My mistake, I thought it was written. Should’ve picked up on that, since Part II sounded much like an old talk of yours.

    Tbh, I don’t really have a conclusion. I’m just wondering…

    My question is basically, just asking about how can the poverty, abandonment of the dunya Sahabas like Abu Dharr al-Ghifari willingly preferred, can be achieved in North America? If you could perhaps address that in the future it would be nice, since this is simply something I am wondering about. You could maybe address it here:

    3 things our shaykhs rarely ever talk about:
    -Jihad (thereby indirectly encouraging terrorism…)
    -Zuhd and Poverty (the undeniable type in early Islam)
    -Ahlul Bayt

    There could be many reasons why they don’t…but they are major themes in our religion that get very limited discussion- if none at all.


    • Dawoud:

      Asalamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

      Again it seems that you are not in touch with many things that are happening on the ground nor have taken a fair look at the body of work many students and scholars are putting out?

      -Jihad (thereby indirectly encouraging terrorism…)
      A number of concepts from Hijrah to misundestood texts (dar al-Harb and so on) are found here on this site, the Ilm Fest this year dealt with this topic directly, over the last 4 years I recorded a total of around 10 hours of material, presented in front of a large number of Muslims in three different states addressing this and I know that Imam Zaid and others, Dr. Jackson, have as well. We are planning on translating some current fatwa on this in the future.
      -Zuhd and Poverty (the undeniable type in early Islam)
      It was dealt with in this article below and, unless your forgot, a lecture I did based on the work of Ibn ‘Attaullah that you praised, and more recently 2 series of free lectures given here: Muhasibi’s text (7 hours) as well as Ibn al-Qayim’s ighthat Lafhan. Last year I read Muhasibi’s text in almost every halaqa I taught in Egypt.

      For the correct understanding of zuhd see Ibn al-Qayyims madarij al-salikin as well as muhasib’s text mentioned above.

      -Ahlul Bayt
      You got me on that one. Although I did series on Mothers of the Believers a few years ago, I know that a number of sheikhs have talked about this and witnessed this while back in the states.

      One thing to remember is that it is always easy to point the finger at others. Know that none of us can handle everything. Perhaps you should take up these important ideas, develope them and work to increase people’s unerstandings?


  • This resonates with me. I have long thought this, that people who actually go forth and earn a livelihood where they can, or use their talents to fulfil some kind of field of knowledge whether in academia or corporate (yes, in the corporate world there is need for the intellectual) – and you never know which science will turn out to become a fardhu kifayah, that’s what ‘blue sky’ science is for – is the more tested in their faith, as they mingle with non-Muslims, mingle with colleagues from other countries, other towns, have to learn about different issues, compared to people who only work in limited fields, or purposely avoid anything that might cause them to be tested in life and perhaps fail.

    I mean, when you get tested more, sometimes you’re not going to score well all the time, but that’s how you’re going to move up to the next grade, you know. Like in school. But that should be ok. You get nowhere if you only take first grade tests your whole life. Right?

Leave a Reply to Dawud Israel X